Though Forbes Travel Guide expanded to more than 100 international destinations for its 2016 Star Ratings awards, two standouts were the Caribbean and Mexico. While you might be quick to discount the two regions for having an unfair advantage from Mother Nature, the truth is that high-end resorts in those parts won over inspectors with their anticipatory service and overall sense of absolute ambience. That’s not to say that offering piña coladas on a white sand beach hurt any of their causes; we’re just affirming that stellar amenities and timely in-room dining weighed more in the scoring. Here are a few other reasons why the two areas stand so tall this year.
Of the new properties that appear on the 2016 Forbes Travel Guide Five- and Four-Star lists, 10 of them are found in the Caribbean. From big brands’ beachfront beauties (Puerto Rico’s Dorado Beach, A Ritz-Carlton Reserve) to elegant independents (Barbados’ Sandy Lane Hotel), the roster ran the gamut in tropical glamor.
One company, in particular, that shined was Rosewood Hotels & Resorts. With the British Virgin Islands’ Rosewood Little Dix Bay earning a Four-Star distinction for the first time and Antigua’s Jumby Bay, A Rosewood Resort snagging a Five-Star honor for a second straight year, it’s easy to see why Radha Arora, Rosewood Hotels & Resorts president, is so pleased these days.
“I feel an enormous sense of pride in Rosewood, the properties and our dedicated associates,” Arora said. “[Their] constant efforts to create and implement truly exceptional and memorable guest experiences allow Rosewood to stand out. It’s an honor to have 11 properties recognized, and it’s a wonderful testament to their hard work.”
Unlike some hidden formula kept in a vault somewhere, the secret to Rosewood’s global success is an obvious one — the people. From the young man helping to set up your charter yacht ride to the housekeeper ensuring you have a memorable turndown, Arora insists that these individuals are the ones who make things hum along.
“We believe in relationship hospitality,” Arora adds. “True hospitality is found in the strong relationships we build with our guests, our communities and our associates. I frequently hear from guests that it’s the warmth, intuitiveness and charm of our associates that keeps them coming back again and again, so these are qualities that we seek out in the hiring process. There is much that can be taught, but passion, dedication and enthusiasm has to be intuitive.”
The Rosewood hotels and our other award winners have set a high bar in the Caribbean. It will force newcomers like Anguilla’s Zemi Beach House Resort & Spa and greatly anticipated projects such as Park Hyatt St. Kitts, set to open later this year, to follow suit.
But no matter how wide a doorman’s smile or how long the list of a property’s watersports, Arora believes that the region will stay atop travelers’ wish lists because of the basics.
“One reason why so many people are drawn to the Caribbean is its setting,” he says, “which brings an immediate sense of relaxation as travelers reconnect with the beauty and calm of the natural surroundings. There’s nothing like the feeling of watching the sun rise and set over those azure blue waters. It both calms and recharges you.”
Many cities around Mexico can match the islands’ forecasts of 300-plus days of annual sunshine. Sadly, nature has a more unpleasant side to it as well. Los Cabos bore witness to its fury in September 2014, when Hurricane Odile made landfall on the Baja Peninsula. The Category 4 storm, the most severe in that corner in 40 years, devastated families and left more than $1 billion in damage.
After the hurricane, Esperanza, An Auberge Resort in Cabo San Lucas had some cosmetic issues but, thankfully, avoided suffering much structurally. Once a few months of renovations were complete, the hotel reopened in April 2015, this time screaming cliffside luxuriousness even louder. It eventually earned its first Five-Star mark this year.
“The hotel exudes a barefoot elegance and a very sensual sense of relaxation,” explains Marc Rodriguez, Esperanza’s general manager. “We have a contemporary design. What we do is provide a fresh take on what I would call ‘coastal living’ here in Cabo. We truly have a sense of place anchored in the commitment, the dedication and the sheer love of our team members giving service. The word esperanza means ‘hope’ in Spanish. When our guests come, we truly hope that we provide them with this tremendous home-away-from-home experience.”
While you could spend a lifetime lounging around Esperanza, Four-Star One&Only Palmilla, Los Cabos Resort or any of the other top-shelf properties in the area, Mexico remains a pillar in posh travel because of its diversity. Visit Mexico City, in the heart of the nation, to experience a hip, thriving metropolis. Venture further south to Oaxaca for a history lesson and some unforgettable chocolate. Travel to Riviera Maya or Cancun for sparkling waters and lively beaches.
“Mexico is so vast,” Rodriguez says. “If you take Mexico from the west coast all the way through to the east coast, you can plant it on [top of] a map of the United States or a map of Europe. It stretches across a lot of countries. And it can take hours to fly from one side to the other. So, just the sheer diversity of experiences that you can have [make it appealing].”
And to ensure that enough high-end accommodations await when you arrive, enticing properties are being erected all around the country, including Andaz Mayakoba Resort Riviera Maya and Rosewood Puebla. Already-established addresses such as Five-Star Las Ventanas al Paraíso, A Rosewood Resort have refreshed their grounds post-hurricane and are helping to create an excitement that should carry well into 2017.
“It’s tremendous just what you can do,” Rodriguez says. “You can have tropical experiences. You can have desert experiences. You can have amazing city experiences. You can have amazing natural experiences. You can have water experiences. You can have a lot of archeological experiences. You’ve got something for everyone in Mexico.”